The Belgian publisher Dupuis is suspending the release of a new album in the “Gaston” series, which was originally planned for this autumn. The company announced this on Monday in a press release, which was reported by Belgium’s public broadcaster, among others.
The decision was made “spontaneously to allow for a calm and factual debate until the court decision on the main issue takes place in September 2022,” according to a press release. The background is a legal dispute that reached its peak on Monday.
It’s actually quite simple: If an author dies, the work ends, unless otherwise contractually agreed. That’s why there are new novels from the world of Dune, but none from the world of Lord of the Rings. That’s why there are new “Asterix” volumes, but none of “Tim and Struppi”.
But what if it is not clearly regulated? As in “Gaston”. The anarchic office messenger Gaston Lagaffe was invented in 1957 by the Belgian André Franquin (1924 – 1997) as a supporting character for the Franco-Belgian comic magazine “Spirou”. Were it not for such a contradiction in terms of the character, who repeatedly and in a highly creative way refused to work as an office boy, one could say that Gaston quickly worked his way up to the main character, the mascot of the newspaper.
When Franquin died in 1997, “Gaston” ended. That was even true of the last unfinished page that Franquin had started and that no one was allowed to finish. “Gaston” should end with Franquin. However, because the series was extremely successful, the hunger of the Dupuis publishing house, which publishes “Gaston” (in Germany it is the Carlsen publishing house), was particularly hungry.
For a while attempts were made to creatively circumvent Franquin’s dictum. The parody “Baston” had already appeared in 1983. From 2011, two volumes of the “Gastoon” series followed, which purported to describe the youthful adventures of a character who was strikingly similar to Gaston. And in 2017 two homage volumes were published, in which various artists tried more or less successfully to imitate Franquin’s character.
In retrospect, the last four volumes in particular seem like an approach to a continuation of the series. And sure enough, new “Gaston” comic pages were announced for April this year, produced by Canadian comic artist Marc Delafontaine, stage name Delaf. His new “Gaston” album entitled “Le Retour des Lagaffe” should be released in October.
But the publication of the first new pages was stopped at the last moment by a lawsuit from Franquin’s daughter and heiress Isabelle.
In an urgent procedure, a decision should be made on the lawsuit this Monday. It was intended to cut through a Gordian knot of jurisprudence: While Dupuis owns the exploitation rights to the character, which Franquin had ceded in 1992, Franquin’s daughter, as heiress, has copyright and veto rights. From a legal point of view, the question of which right weighs more must be clarified.
Even before the trial, Isabelle Franquin addressed the readers in an open letter last week. Under the heading “Respect the authors” she wrote that Dupuis’ project “weakens an entire artistic form” (the comic) and that the “moral rights of the authors must be respected”.
Comic artist Zep (“Titeuf”), who co-signed the letter, finds more drastic words: “That sucks.” Other well-known comic artists who signed include Francois Boucq (“Bouncer”), Dany (“Andy Morgan”) and Frank LeGall (“Theodor Pussel”), whose comics are published by Dupuis.
Isabelle Franquin had already sued in 2011 because of the appearance of “Gastoon”, at that time she and the publisher were able to reach an out-of-court agreement. With the current open letter, she is increasing the pressure and making such an agreement unlikely. The decision should now be made in the fall.